The six stages of getting drunk

drink responsibly

With party season fast approaching, it might serve you well to understand – and recognise – the six stages of getting drunk.

Alcohol floods your brain like an enormous tidal wave, so it’s no coincidence you start off feeling jolly, but later struggle to stay on your feet.

The suppressing effect of alcohol affects one area of the brain after another. The wave breaks in theforebrain, then washes sideways and backwards over and through the brain and finally spreads to itsdeepest and most vulnerable part, the cerebellum, midbrain, brain stem and medulla oblongata,says Dr Izak Loftus, a South African forensic and anatomical pathologist.

Let’s take a step-by-step look at how you’re literally brain-washed by the alcohol you drink, from the moment you’re the jolly party animal until the end when you stagger around drunkenly and eventually pass out.

Six-stages-of drinking-jovial

1. The jovial phase

Drinking less than half a glass of alcohol an hour is enough to suppress the functions of the frontal lobes that control your inhibitions, self-control, willpower, ability to judge and concentration.

When this part of the brain is being suppressed you have fewer inhibitions, your self-confidence is boosted, you become more jovial and daring and you talk more – and louder. All of this explains why alcohol is considered an excellent social lubricant.

This effect can be detected at a blood alcohol level as low as 0,01g/100ml, which is easily reached by drinking less than half a glass of wine an hour.

Believe it or not, at this stage your judgement is diminished and your personality has been sufficiently altered to increase your risk of dying an unnatural death – as a result of an accident or fight, for example.


2. The slurring phase

Next in line to experience the alcohol wave are the parietal lobes at the sides and on the top of your head.

When your blood-alcohol level is about 0,10g/100ml (typically after two to three drinks an hour) your motor skills are impaired. Your speech may be slurred but funnily enough you don’t seem to notice.

Complicated movements such as buttoning your shirt or fastening a necklace are likely to become more challenging and you may experience a slight tremble.

Six-stages-of drinking-blurring

3. The blurring phase

When the alcohol reaches the back of your head and the occipital lobe, your blood-alcohol level will be about 0,15g/100ml. By this time you’ve had four to five drinks (or two to three doubles) in an hour. Your intoxication level is becoming quite dangerous even though you might not think so.

Your vision is deteriorating – it’s becoming increasingly difficult to judge movement and distance and your peripheral vision decreases. If you’re driving at dusk, you’ll have trouble spotting a pedestrian or the little boy chasing his ball; unable to stop in time, you could kill someone or crash into the back of a slow-moving truck.

Six-stages-of drinking-toppling-over

4. The toppling-over phase

When your alcohol level reaches 0,2g/100ml (after four to six drinks or three doubles in an hour),

the alcohol wave is crashing over your cerebellum.

By now your balance will be severely affected and you’ll have trouble standing.

Hopefully your friends have already seen to it that you’re lying down safely so you can sleep off the backlash of the booze.

Six-stages-of drinking-legless-phase

5. The legless phase

If you’re not in bed by now, you’ll be lying somewhere in a drunken stupor.

Your blood-alcohol level is in the region of 0,25g/100ml and your midbrain has become affected. You’re paralytic, jittery and nauseous, and your reflexes are severely impaired.

If you’re lucky, you’ve managed to turn onto your stomach because if you’re lying on your back in this condition, you may end up choking on your own vomit.

By this time you may have lost consciousness.

Six-stages-of drinking-deadly

6. The deadly phase

If you drink four doubles an hour, your blood-alcohol level will quickly exceed 0,35g to 0,4g/100ml.

With this amount of alcohol in your body, your brain will be hit with a vengeance. It’s now a matter of life and death: if the alcohol reaches the medulla oblongata (the part of the brain controlling breathing and blood circulation), you can die.

Six-stages-of drinking-approach

How to approach party season

From the above, it’s clear that partying too hard can do a lot of damage – possibly a lot sooner than you think.

Here are a few tips to help you make it through the party season without getting dangerously drunk:

  • If you’re going to drive, don’t drink ANY alcohol. The risk is simply too big.
  • Try not to have more than one drink an hour. A unit is calculated as a beer (340ml), a small glass of wine (125ml) or one tot of spirits (25ml).
  • Alternate each alcoholic drink with a glass of water or non-alcoholic beverage.
  • Drink slowly when you’re tired or after exercise as the effects of alcohol are more severe when you’re fatigued.
  • Eat fruit, a sandwich or a meaty snack before or while you’re drinking. Choose snacks that aren’t too greasy – if you pick up too much weight during the holidays you might just be tempted to drown your sorrows…

Images via Thinkstock.

>> READ MORE about overcoming bad drinking habits.

>> READ MORE about how drinking effects your body and how to prevent and treat a bad hangover.